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Barristers encouraged to instruct solicitors

4 May 2010

Barristers’ chambers could instruct solicitors under the Bar Council’s plans for new business structures. The idea is to give sets of chambers more flexibility in bidding for work from large companies and local authorities. The plan would also allow barristers to bid for legal aid contracts.

Launching the new business model, called ‘ProcureCo’, Nicholas Green QC, chairman of the Bar Council, said that some chambers had already set up similar companies on case-by-case basis.

“I am aware from numerous conversations with members of the Bar and with clerks and practice managers that the Bar needs greater flexibility in what is a rapidly changing marketplace,” he said.

Green said the Bar Council had instructed solicitors Field Fisher Waterhouse to draw up a set of documents to act as a ‘toolkit’ which could be adapted by sets of chambers.

In his introduction to the ‘ProcureCo’ documents, Green said: “The profession is characterised by a strong adhesion to the principle of independence where each member of chambers owes his or her primary duty to the court and to clients but not to colleagues in chambers.

“For this reason, the partnership model, with its attendant complications arising out of conflicts of interest, is not one which the Bar generally considers makes business sense.”

Green said the ProcureCo model preserved the traditional chambers structure but allowed corporate vehicles to be added as adjuncts or ‘bolt-ons’.

He said the model would give the Bar the ability to bring together a range of skills.

“For example, a ProcureCo might win a contract for work with a block purchaser which requires the skills of a solicitor in conjunction with those of the barrister,” he said.

In this case, barristers would be used for some of the work and solicitors on a ProcureCo panel for the rest.

Green said chambers were considering setting up (or had already set up) ProcureCos for a diverse range of work including international work, City advisory work, ADR and mediation, arbitration and local authority work.

He added that the Bar Council was also discussing with the LSC the use of different business models for direct legal aid contracting.

Des Hudson, chief executive of the Law Society, said the “project management and coordination skills” of solicitors was likely to mean that they would continue to lead on bidding for and managing “significant legal work”.

He went on: “ProcureCo is a telling development spawned by the changes underway to the procurement of publicly funded legal services and the Legal Services Act 2007.

“Those of our members operating in this area will need to consider the competitive threat that barristers may represent and act accordingly. They may wish to consider, for example, how they may expand their own advocacy services.”

He said the Law Society would “support solicitors in every way possible to respond to the opportunities and threats the LSA will usher in”.

A spokesman for the Legal Services Commission said that initial discussions with the Bar had taken place about the appropriateness of a ProcureCo model for contracting legal aid services.

“More information and additional discussions are required before the LSC can make an informed decision about its suitability.”

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